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Fading tradition of female facial tattoos in Middle East and North Africa

As a young girl, Yumna Al-Arashi would look with fascination upon the dots, lines and symbols that graced her Yemeni great-grandmother’s face. Yet as Al-Arashi grew older and learned more about the facial tattoos, she discovered it was a tradition few young women seemed intent on continuing.

Al-Arashi, a London-based photographer, spent the latter part of 2017 making her way across the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian hinterlands collecting portraits of 100 women over the age of 70 to document this tradition.

Habiba

Yumna Al-Arashi

Algerian woman

Yumna Al-Arashi

Aisha

Yumna Al-Arashi

Halima

Yumna Al-Arashi

Some of the women Al-Arashi photographed, like Halima on the previous slide, have tattoos that hold symbolic power for them and their families.

Traditional Amazigh woman

Yumna Al-Arashi

Other women Al-Arashi encountered had tattoos paying tribute to sacred figures and goddesses. The women on the previous slide dedicated her tattoo to the Carthaginian goddess, Tanit.

Brika

Yumna Al-Arashi

I have the stars and the moon on my cheeks. They’re the most beautiful things my eyes have seen. I don’t know how to read or write and I don’t have any devices like you, but I know my land and my earth, the stars and moon help me navigate it. That’s why I’m here.

Brika

Elderly woman in Matmata

Yumna Al-Arashi

Sassiya

Yumna Al-Arashi

Yumna

Yumna Al-Arashi

I really wanted to make them look as beautiful as I thought they were... to really show these people's personalities instead of just pointing a camera in their face.

Al-Arashi

Photographer